Periodically! #9: The Lost Seasons Edition

cropped-periodically3.jpg

Well, well, well. I’ll bet my followers thought I must have fallen off the edge of the world. (Pretty damned close.) The last Periodically! was released in February. Friends, that was a good five months ago. Let’s just refer to this black hole of nothingness as the Lost Season (as in Lost Weekend…only much, much longer).

In the blur that was the Spring (that wasn’t – we here in Michigan were hosed again with cold and snow until the end of May), several things happened: people died, people sickened, people were institutionalized, people adopted a homeless Detroit chihuahua, people bought a second home (heretofore renamed Money Pit), people bought another home (heretofore renamed Minor Money Pit), people dumped tons of money into the Pits and their adult children, people sprint-planted a vegetable garden, people applied to an art contest, and people readied to enter the Ann Arbor Art Fair while working a full time job (business is b-o-o-m-i-n-g!). Some people actually wrote for a hot minute.

Now this Person will take a break and fly to San Francisco for a long weekend and eat decadent food and search for sea glass. It’s not running away from home, but it’s the next best thing.

Outdoor Updates: The Guerrilla Urban Garden

The wacky spring wreaked havoc on my fruit trees. They blossomed, then we had a frost. This means NO cherries and precious few pears, so if you were expecting a hand-crafted cherry tart or pear preserves, not this year.

The potatoes, on the other hand, are none the worse for wear, but they are underground for the most part, so they managed to survive the snow. My first planting is nearly ready to harvest (that’s what four weeks of hot weather will do for you).

We’ve eaten our first peppers, cucumbers, lettuce, and blueberries. The backyard is a jungle of edibles.

What I most enjoy from vegetable gardening (besides the eats!) is that working the soil bonds you to Nature. There are many analogies to the writing perspective as well. Gardeners take seed; add water, light, and fertilizer; tend by weeding and warding off pests; and finally reap the reward at the end of the season. Writers take a small idea; expound it by adding characters and plot; work the literary landscape until it makes sense; and finally reap the reward at the end of the story.

On Writing

Ever hunker down on your Twitter feed looking for inspiration? Ever buy all the writing reference books Amazon offers during that dry spell when you can’t seem to scratch out your grocery list? Yes, I’ve been there, mining golden nuggets, for inspiration and education. But here is a very good article on looking for and perhaps not taking advice. There is such a thing. It’s called a grain of salt. (I know. Funny coming from me, who is always looking for writing references online. See more below.)

Your brain is a muscle, and if you don’t exercise it, it will get flabby. So in the spirit of mental gymnastics, Book Baby’s article on using your TV and movie time as devices in your own writing make a lot of sense. My husband and I actually did this a lot with our kids, in pointing out the “bad” guy, the struggles of the “good” guy, and what the projected ending might be. (Now that our kids are grown, he just likes to guess the ending sometime within the first ten minutes. He’s usually right, dammit!)

Is it really stylish when YOU do it? Probably not. That’s why reading this (gently) ass-kicking blog post on the rules of writing (which can be broken – sometimes) can serve as a wake-up call for those of us writers that might be a tad full of ourselves.

Read Lately

One thing I do is write scenes in a real notebook. (By hand. In pencil.) I’ve taken classes with Christina Katz and this is a very easy way to commit to prompts on a daily basis. The summer I started doing these prompts, I would write different scenes with the same characters. I’m putting these together in a novel about random strangers who meet in San Francisco in 1978.

I started the sequence of scenes during modern times, but I liked the idea of a lack of modern conveniences like cell phones and online banking for this story. My characters weren’t easily traced, meaning they had time before they could be found out (and therefore, time for the story to be told). In some ways, 1978 wasn’t that long ago, but in others it’s light years in the past. Placing the setting of a story four decades ago makes for some interesting challenges. Most of my reading time in the last few months has been devoted to research, which might sound dry, but is actually quite compelling.

The Final Leap: Suicide on the Golden Gate Bridge is one such book. Since the Golden Gate Bridge and suicidal souls figure prominently in my story, I thought this should be a fine reference, and it is. Besides providing a wealth of statistical data, John Bateson also interviewed survivors including family members and those who lived.

No foray into Bridge jumpers would be complete without diving (sorry, pun not intended) into Cracked Not Broken: Surviving and Thriving After a Suicide Attempt, by Kevin Hines. He miraculously survived his drop from the Golden Gate too.

Ten Years that Shook the City: San Francisco 1968-1978 by Chris Carlsson helped me to define the mood and tone of City. However, I happened upon the biggest bonanza of paraphernalia through my Twitter feed, when SF Gate posted this breathtaking photo essay.

Movies

I don’t go to them anymore (too expensive, too crowded, I’d rather be comfortable in my own house, thank you), but I do have a Netflix account. Here are a few movies I found to be entertaining. Keep in mind that my mentions might have sustained some terrible reviews along the way, which is why I don’t read reviews until after I’ve seen the movie/read the book/dined at the restaurant/etc.

The Fundamentals of Caring: it’s a Netflix original movie. Honestly, I’m starting to like Netflix originals. They did a kick-ass job with House of Cards, right?

Life is about a Life magazine photojournalist who finagles a way to cover James Dean just before Dean scored his role in East of Eden. Overlook Robert Pattinson as the journalist, because he still looks like a Twilight vampire to me, but Dane Dehaan as James Dean…WOW.

The Do-Over, (another Netflix original) but I’m a sucker for Adam Sandler. Yes, even his terrible movies hold an appeal to me.

Question of the Issue

What is your preferred method of reading? Are you digital only? Or do you like the smell and heft of a bound edition? Mix and match?

I personally love a nice hard-cover, particularly if it’s signed by the author – and if signed by one of my favorites, I’m in heaven – but I admit to reading books on my iPhone. I haven’t picked up a magazine in a doctor’s office in years. For traveling, it’s paperbacks all the way (same entertainment, slightly less poundage), and I’ll leave them in airport waiting areas or at friend’s houses just to share the love.

Quote of the Issue

The idea is to write it so that people hear it & it slides through the brain and goes straight to the heart. ~Maya Angelou

Here’s the real action: check it out.

Find me on Facebook! I’ll friend anyone. Ask anyone. I even approve the weird guys from another country who IM me to ask about my life but clearly have never read my profile.

I’m a Goodreads author! Honest to God. Ask me a question, I’ll be happy to answer. Even if it’s a *stupid* question. (Or a questionable question. Those are the best kind.)

Follow me on Twitter! I’m not sure I have anything wonderful to say. I will say that I follow some interesting people. I can’t believe I can say this, but a few interesting people follow me, too. Twitter: the cyber cocktail party – alcohol not necessary.

I do have an Instagram. I’ve had it for a long time. Be forewarned, I take a lot of photos of food, either what I’ve made or my restaurant choices. My Instagram is also littered with photos of dogs and cats.

I’m also on Pinterest! Rarely, but I do hit up the boards every now and again.

With any luck, I will see you next month.


Periodically!, PO Box 207, Royal Oak, Michigan 48068

 

 

Querying…Again

OK, so I’ve been over this manuscript, what? A million times? Rough draft, second rough draft, third rough draft, final draft, three edits with MR ED, after which, a year of self-imposed edits, one edit with a completely different, third party editor, several contests, a half dozen SmartEdits, another edit this month, and finally a proofread or two. I even thought of a scene that I’d forgotten to put in, and have bookmarked a scene to take out in case I can’t get permission to quote two lines of lyric. This baby about as tight as it’s going to get.

And so today, with tentative fingers, I decided to open my query (newly polished from a LitReactor query class I took in December). I spiffed it up, and then opened QueryTracker and scanned down my list of agents (since it’s January, thankfully many have opened to queries again), studied their web sites, including the types of clients they represent and the titles of books they’ve helped get published, and, OH MY GOD, I clicked SEND on three of them.

“No big deal,” you say.

Are you shitting me? I started hyperventilating after the first one.

Especially when I saw my email after I sent the first one. Why is it my formatting is so wonky? Many agents want the first few chapters imbedded into the email. Once I copy and paste, the formatting goes right to hell and stays there. I’m not a newbie, I know how to format a manuscript now. I’m doing it the right way. And this story is so straightforward; there are no text messages and very few email, only some italics, so it’s not like I’m trying to perform literary gymnastics.

It’s not just the query letter, or my email server problems. I’m well acquainted with my story, and it think it’s a good  great one. I’m well-versed in penning business letters, I do that every day. I’ve married the pitch to my business style in a beautiful ceremony that’s not too staid and not too sappy.

That part doesn’t bother me. My (now) angst is the result of moving on to the next step. This story is finished, complete, as good as it’s going to get. Now I leave the artist phase and enter the hopeful-for-an-agent phase, to be continued on to the product-selling phase.

I queried three agents today.

*deep breath*

I’ve done it before, and it’s not any easier now than it was then. It’s like getting on a roller coaster and realizing your seat belt isn’t secure. WHEE! and oh, shit.

This part of the process takes time, and you can’t take it too seriously, or you’ll lose your mind. I have a plan, though. I’ll distract myself by working on the next edit. It’s been nagging at me for a long time.

And maybe I’ll query someone else tomorrow.

A Rant Unrelated to Writing… Or Maybe It Is

I love social media.

Usually.

It’s fast, it’s easy. I can keep track of my friends and relatives without calling them. I can laugh at jokes and eCards, view photos and videos from all over the world, and shop for bargains. I can monitor world events, see what’s hot and what’s not, and find large bits of useful and useless information, both meaningful and dumb. I gave up my newspaper subscription, because 1. the Detroit News is a shadow of its former self, 2. news is readily available online, and 3. my bird died.

I especially love social media because I write. Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads (social media for writers), and Instagram – writers tend to use these forums to dispense information. I can check out my favorite authors’ new releases; I can research people and places; I can stalk agents (discreetly) and find out what they really think about us poor, helpless writer-schlubs. I can learn about upcoming contests quickly, thus freeing me from blog hopping all over the information superhighway. Saves both time and aspirin.

But social media isn’t all about ONE THING. It’s…well, social, meaning that what happens in the world spills over with some of these personalities. Believe me, I have narrowed my follows to people I really know or like, or authors, writers, agents, and/or others in the business. While I tend to shy away from the troll types, I engage with people who, quite frankly, I don’t agree with on many issues.

I’m not a pithy Tweeter, and I try to stay away from Facebook as much as possible. I love to be sociable, but these Internet water cooler-coffee klatch-parties are a time suck, my friends. My plate overfloweth. I run a business, a household, and I’m trying to write in between many crushing Real Life commitments.

That being said, while I like a nicely executed verbal exchange of ideas, there are things I do not like. One, I don’t care for a constant battering of positions which inevitably winds up some hapless soul being virtually lynched. I (and others) can have our opinions without being called stupid or worse.

Recently, I’ve noticed the online tone changing from an exchange of ideas to a pity party, where people tend to play the victim card with every revelation or change in government. I don’t care if you’re white, black, red or purple, I don’t care if you’re a man or a woman, straight or gay, born here or (like me) not, if you had perfect loving parents or were abused, I don’t even care if you’re a Donkey or an Elephant. Honest to God, when I look at people, I see none of this.

What irks me more than any or all of these distinctions is that people tend to claim victimhood as a valid argument for any position.

I suppose it’s because I’ve had my craw full this week. Not only do I see this online, I see this in offline relationships. If your mother was a child abuser, if your skin is a certain color, if your spouse cheated, if your boss is a bitch – all these are reasons to justify bad behavior. WHAT? (That sound you heard was my head hitting a brick wall.) First of all, why give the other side that much power? Secondly, if you’re over 18, why not own your situation and carry on? If you have brains and strength and chutzpah, figure out your problems and devise a workable solution.

I am a woman, I am of mixed race, I am old, I have issues. I’m flawed BIG TIME. A physically and emotionally abusive mother raised me. Never once in the last 57 years have I blamed any of my shortcomings on my external environment, that the “man” was keeping me down as a woman or anything else. That’s because I control my life and my destiny, and the parts I can’t control I deal with the best I can.

After ruminating on this revelation and my subsequent annoyance for a few hours (after shutting down Twitter, because I couldn’t stand it anymore), I realized that the victim card is played by aspiring authors too. I’ve been to plenty of writers conferences where there are a few disgruntled and unhappy attendees. They see other writers as enemies or rivals, and agents as tyrants. Perhaps their manuscripts aren‘t the next Harry Potter and need more work. Instead of taking control of their work and their destiny, they choose to play the blame game.

It’s so much easier, right?

Grow and let go.

Rant over.

Big Money: A Dream Writers Must Let Go Of

In addition to writing, I enjoy other interests. Key among them is working, although truth be told, if I were to happen upon the Lotto jackpot, I would retire from the time-sucking Day Job and write full time in a heartbeat. I also enjoy gourmet cooking, gardening; I paint, I sew, I make twisted things out of wire and gems. I play guitar and violin (badly).

I argue that anything one can do in life can be elevated to art. Even the time-sucking Day Job.

Even *gasp* menial tasks.

I think back to when I started writing “seriously” in 2007. I’m pretty sure making money was the furthest thing from my mind. I know for a fact that my seedling of a story had no outline and no intended ending. Getting it all down on paper was the goal, and it was a huge one. Once you’ve achieved the goal, the next step is editing. Re-writing. Polishing. Weaving subplots and intricacies into the story. Editing and polishing some more. And then of course, querying.

I’m constantly amazed by writers who think they can make money from the writing venture. I suppose there are some who can pump out volume after volume and sell – sell big time, even. They talk about platform, social media, marketing. It’s all necessary. Even the big houses aren’t paying for publicity anymore, so the author is expected to peddle – I mean, sell – their own work.

When you add up the time creating, fold in the time and expense of editing, and cap it off with the time marketing, most writers make about 2 cents an hour. If that.

Obviously, one cannot look at writing as a money-making venture.

I liken writing to my jewelry making venture: it’s something I do, and do well. It’s something I enjoy. I love creating art, whether it is visual, wearable, or readable. My output is unusual, quirky and, well… artistic. It appeals to some, but not to the masses. I have reconciled myself as a jewelry artist with any dreams I have of being able to live off my work. I can’t.

My son has a degree in piano performance from a prestigious music conservatory. He’s a fabulous pianist, truly an artist when it comes to playing the piano. But there are hundreds, no, thousands of fabulous pianists within a twenty-mile radius of his house. He’s great, and he can barely live off his work.

I belong to writing associations and go to conferences. Some think that book sales in the 2-3 thousand range is great. It’s not enough to live on, but it’s respectable. You might break even. If enough people love it, your agent might want you to produce more of the same, therefore ensuring continued success.

But are you kidding? There are literally thousands and thousands of great writers. I have a To-Read list that threatens to crush me. Some of the books were recommended; others were given to me to read for review. Many were self-published. Not everyone can do a decent job of writing a book, but believe me, there are plenty out there that do a kick-ass job – and they don’t have contracts with big houses.

As an artist, I recommend the following: let go of the Big Money dream. It’s nice to have for the occasional foray into pleasantville, but the reality is that even with self-pubbing and e-pubbing, the best you can do is small money and some recognition.

As an artist, I thoroughly recommend honing your craft. Study. Make use of information – there’s a ton of it out there. Make a few mistakes, and don’t be afraid of trying something new. Approach writing as a learning experience. Your artistic work is and should be your primary focus, not snagging an agent or getting a contract. God forbid, not hoping for the big pay-off.

After all, you have a better chance of hitting the Lotto.

I’m BAAAcck! I’m Back in the Saddle Again

Ebbs and tides. This is life, and this is the writing life.

They say once you know how to ride a bicycle, you can always get on one and ride away into the sunset. I’m not sure I want to try it on my bicycle, which hasn’t been out of the garage since 2004 when we moved here, but such a plan certainly works with words.

Last night, my dog, the fabulous Princess Grace, was having severe gastro disturbances resulting in a very messy house. Coincidentally, my protag, Ashe, finds the family dog Jim Bob in a similar physical state after he (the hound) devours a dinner of honey buns AND barbecue sauce. Ashe has a fastidious brother to clean up the mess; I had the hubby.

During this fiasco, I was struck by an amazing solution to my first chapter problem.

I’m going to write it like my final chapter! Which, for those of you who haven’t read the book (since I want a few people to actually buy the book), is a series of email sent by my characters which wraps up the loose ends and suggests other plots and twists for the sequel(s).

My first chapter of yore contained a chat room exchange which many (including a great number of agents) found too confusing to read. This was done in order to introduce the characters to the world, but instead resulted in being a lot of noise which did very little to advance the story. I’m going to give it a good stab, but I think visually and psychically, this might be the way to go.

So… dear friends, I am technically back in the saddle again. Once I dust off this major change, I might rant about the economy.

Now for your listening enjoyment, let me include the following:

Gene Autry, for my gentler readers.

And Steven Tyler, who rocked then and rocks now.

Queries and Agents

Now that the novel is finished (I think…if I can keep my hands off it, finally), I’ve spent the first week of the new year adjusting my query letter. I actually sent one off too! My goal for this year is to send one out each week. However, the entire process of querying agents is often overlooked by fledgling published author-wannabes, who send out mass email blasts to every literary agent from coast to coast.

That’s right, querying agents is not so easy.

In fact, I spent a couple of days researching agents before I sent off my first letter.

Before that, I spent a year following agents around online. This is easily done on Twitter and Facebook. OK, so it’s professional cyber-stalking, but it’s a necessary task before the clueless writer sends the work off to the great beyond. This because there is a protocol, and God forbid if Clueless Writer does something totally tacky. You can gain a lot of insight by reading the pet peeves of various agents. They are sometimes funny, sometimes informative, and sometimes downright scary, as in you don’t want to mess with this person kind of scary.

Twitter is a wonderful resource, because you can eavesdrop on agents as they talk to each other. The agent web appears to be quite huge. After a while, you get to know them by their responses. I know you don’t really know them, but it gives you a feel for their personalities.

As luck would have it, I happened to see this online yesterday – talk about timely. This article is a must-read for anyone who is contemplating sending out a query letter. It’s long, but there is so much information packed into the post that I have bookmarked it for later use.

I use the Query Tracker website (if you do not, you should check it out), where you can search for agents according to genre. This, my friends, is a very good thing to do. Agents who only represent non-fiction are loathe to answer a letter from a romance novelist, and there is probably similar annoyance going the other way.

But it’s not only finding the agent to fit your needs, you must find the right agent for the genre, for the type of book you have written. For example, in the world of romance, there are many sub-genres. Agents who represent historical romance usually stick to that sub-genre. It’s the same with chick-lit, steamy traditional romance, Christian romance, alternative romance, etc. I can imagine an agent of Christian romance opening up a query letter from someone who has written erotica. Oops doesn’t even begin to describe it.

I also took some time to research where my favorite authors are represented. Yes, it’s painstaking. I know a few authors (some by name only and others more personally) but I would never think to ask them who their agent is. I could be wrong, but that shouts TACKY in 120 decibels. Besides, a good Internet sleuth can find the information with a little perseverance. Take copious notes, because if you’re like me, you could lose your place among the hundreds of agencies you are looking at.

Query letters are business letters, and aspiring authors should remember that. In my Day Job, I write business letters all day long, so I realize the need to be concise. It’s just a little different with a query letter, in that you are trying to sell your work using as few words as possible. There has to be a hook, something that will keep the agent reading. Be pleasant, be respectful, and try not be cliche. Agents are looking for a spark of creativity. You’re a writer, right?

Be prepared to have a synopsis in your back pocket as well. I have a huge, detailed query letter for those agents not asking for a synopsis, and a shorter one for those who do. (A confession: I am not good at writing synopsis. I know. I should take a class.)

I may not be an expert, but I know how to follow those who do.

I Am So Proud: My Very First Rejection Letter

You may have wondered where I have been for the last three or four weeks. Picture someone constantly checking email for response to my full manuscript being sent out. Counting the minutes, then the days and the weeks with bated breath. Wondering if my baby ended up on someone’s slush pile or under a pile of manuscripts on the agent’s administrative assistant’s desk.

Of course, the news isn’t good — this isn’t a fairy tale Nirvana here.

That’s right, I just received my very first rejection letter for the very first query I have sent out.

I know I shouldn’t be, but I am absolutely giddy.

(What? Did you think I really thought I was going to get a contract on my very first try? I may be a dreamer, but I’m not stupid.)

My reasoning for my glee is  many-fold. First of all, the response was sent out in exactly four weeks, a virtually whiplash-causing turnaround in the publishing biz. I’ve heard other wannabe novelists complaining of months, and months and months without word.

Second, the rejection letter was very kind. I could tell the agent in question actually read my book, from the very personalized feedback she provided. She pointed out a few obvious flaws, ones that I had been fretting over, but gave me some positive props as well.

Third, it could have been worse. MUCH worse. The horror stories are out there: boilerplate rejections two minutes after sending, thorough dressing downs.

I expect to be the recipient of many more rejection letters before someone loves my work enough to snap it up. Some successful authors, like Stephen King, endured years of rejection.

Instead of crying in my beer, I’m energized. I’m ready to take those first fifty pages and transform them into something dazzling, a work of art that will sparkle and shine, catching the eye of some lucky agent out there.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,915 other followers